The Ranch

Les Holden was born in 1911 at Reno, Nevada. His father, John Holden was in the gold mining business at Tonopah and Goldfield, Nevada until his death when Les was four years old. His mother then moved to Montana to live with her brother and his wife. 

Seeking employment that allowed her to have Les with her, Mrs. Holden accepted a housekeeping position for Frank Cooper at Willow Creek, Montana. She and Mr. Cooper married a year later. They had five children, one of which was Jack L. Cooper. After Les graduated from Willow Creek High School, he enrolled at Montana State University at Bozeman. He later transferred to Billings Polytechnic, now called Rock Mountain College. While there, he met Ethel Everson, who was a student at Western Montana College. 

Les' stepfather, Frank Cooper, and half-brother, Jack Cooper, formed a company and purchased the place where Mark Cooper now resides. This was about 1933. 

When Les and Ethel were first married, Les worked as a loan supervisor for the Farm Security Administration, now called Farm Home Administration, in Columbus, Montana. Because he liked working outdoors, he later resigned and they went back to the ranch with Coopers in 1938. A few years later, Les and Ethel leased a ranch on Willow Creek. In 1945, they sold Les's share in the Cooper ranch to Jack and moved to an irrigated farm they leased just south of Townsend. Les & Ethel raised commercial Hereford cattle at this ranch. The inception of their registered herd began when they bought a Line One Hereford sire from the U.S. Range Station at Miles City in 1947. After that, the Holden's acquired two consecutive registered heifer calf crops from Carl Keickbush of Townsend by trading him 1 1/2 of their commercial Hereford heifer calves for one of Carl's. The dams of these heifers were of Advance Domino descent and were sired by Advance Mixer 60th, which traced back to Advance Domino 13th, the basic sire of Line One Herefords at the Miles City Research Station.

In 1954, Les & Ethel decided to buy a ranch, so they sold all of their older Hereford grade cows for $10,000. Cattle prices plummeted that fall. With this money as a down payment, they bought two adjacent irrigated farms southwest of Valier. These places were in a very run-down condition as they had been rented out for many years prior. Besides the buildings being in disrepair, the farm land was depleted by the prevailing west winds blowing the top soil away. They seeded the cultivated acres to hay and pastures and applied commercial fertilizers, particularly phosphate. 

The Holden's continued to use Line One bulls in the commercial and purebred herds. They bought bulls at the Miles City Range Station and also traded with or purchased from Jack Cooper along with retaining top sires from their own herd. 

The Montana Beef Performance Association was organized in 1956. Les was not at the initial meeting as it was during haying season, but they joined one week later to become charter members. Les served as President of the Association in 1965 and 1966 and as a director prior to this.  This was a great tool in the improvement of their herd.

The commercial cattle were sold in 1967 which eliminated the need to lease additional land some 15 miles away. The land base at the ranch was sufficient to maintain the purebred herd there. It was in the spring of this year, that the 1st Annual Cooper-Holden Bull Sale was held at Great Falls. Until this sale, all cattle had been sold through private treaty. An auction gave the buyers a more equal opportunity at buying their choice of the bulls. These sales didn't make headlines the first few years, but Max Fulscher, a prominent Hereford breeder from Colorado, purchased the top selling Holden bull in 1969 for $5,500 and this gave the Holden-Cooper Sale the boost it needed. 1979 was the last joint Cooper-Holden sale held in Great Falls, MT, and both operations chose to move their own sales back to their respective ranches. They continue to have a very close relationship, and the bull sales are held back to back on the 2nd Monday and Tuesday in March every year.

The dawn of the computer era was a godsend for Les as he utilized the Montana Beef Performance Association computer system for several years and later enrolled the Holden herd into the Hereford Association's TPR program when it was finally established. Holden Herefords has greatly benefited through the use of the computed TPR data. 

We are still very active participants in the AHA's Whole Herd T.P.R. program and are recognized as a T.P.R. Platinum Breeder. We have also used ultrasound since 1995 to improve carcass traits in our cattle, and are always looking for new and better ways to measure performance traits in their herd. We have a strong focus on selecting for moderate birth weight combined with high growth, maternal, and carcass traits.   We have used enhanced Genomic EPD's since 2012 on all of our cattle to increase the accuracy and predictability of their EPD's at an earlier age. We have also used parentage verification on all of our cattle since the mid 1980’s. We have an extensive ET program and put in over 250 embryos every year.

Holden Herefords cowherd is recognized as one of the tops in the nation. They have placed tremendous emphasis on milking ability, udder quality, and fertility combined with sound, easy fleshing, well marked females. We have exported semen and embryo’s worldwide with customers in South America, Australia, and Europe along with Mexico and Canada.

Holden Herefords incorporated in 1975, with Les & Ethel continuing to manage the ranch until 1987. At this time, Les' grandson, Jack Holden and his wife Tresha, took over the management of the ranch. They have two children, Brooke and Brad, that are involved in helping on the ranch also. Ethel Holden passed away in 1999 at 87 years of age. Les Holden passed away in July of 2004.

Over the years Les received several honors and awards, namely Montana Hereford Man of the Year in 1978(Montana Hereford Association);Beef Performance Breeder of the Year in 1975 (Beef Improvement Federation); Livestock Man of the Year in 1981(Record Stockman); inducted into the Honor Gallery in Heritage Hall in 1980(American Hereford Association); and the Producer Recognition Award (Fort Keogh Range Station at Miles City). 

Jack Holden has worked hard to be a leader in the beef industry and has served on the AHA Board of Directors from 2003-2006 and served as President in 2005 and 2006.  He also served on the board of directors of the Montana Stockgrowers Association which is Montana's premier cattlemen's organization.  He also has served as a voting delegate for Genex Cooperative, and served as President of the board of the Pondera County Canal & Reservoir Company in 2003 and 2004.

Jack's parents, John and Linda Holden, were also involved in the registered cattle business raising purebred Hereford and Angus cattle on Westwind Ranch about a mile away.  They have now retired from raising cattle and lease their place to Holden Herefords.  Jack's brother David continues on with the Westwind Angus side of the purebred business, raising very high quality cattle in California.

When Jack came back to manage the ranch in 1987, the herd consisted of 120 registered Hereford cows and 40-50 bulls were sold every year.  The ranch now consists of over 5000 acres of deeded and leased land and over 400 registered calves will be born in 2023 and 130 bulls sold in the annual sale. We also have a fall female sale every year in mid September, marketing 40-50 bred females. There is around 1000 acres of irrigated land on the ranch, and we will put up 5000 round bales of hay annually.

 Jay D Evans joined the ranch as an employee in 1996 and now serves as cow herd manager.  He and his wife Kelli have two children, Brinkley and Taylor.  He has been an integral part in the growth of Holden Herefords and is a great cattleman in his own right assisting with all breeding decisions, cow herd management, bull selection, and overseeing all aspects of our very extensive ET operation.

Brad Holden came back to the ranch in 2016 after graduating from MSU with a degree in Animal Science. He and his wife Jessica have a son Hudson Holden born in September of 2022.

Eric Lawver started as summer help in 2015 and ended up marrying our daughter Brooke. He has involved been fulltime at the ranch since 2017. Eric and Brooke have two children, Brayton now 3, and Leighton born in September 2022. We are very happy to have the 4th generation involved at Holden Herefords and look forward to the 5 th generation that is coming on.